Pennsylvania Limestone Farmhouse Renovations to an 1863 farmhouse built of limestone

April 25, 2014

The Porch

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 8:12 pm

A major task to finish the front porch was to put a “finish”on the concrete pad that is the foundation for the final surface. Originally, we considered concrete pavers a possibility but after doing the back porch we wanted a more elegant and finished look for the entryway.

We investigated real bricks with mortar and selected a style of brick that is manufactured with the “historic” look – that means it has waves, rolls, and cups after it is fired as well as variation in color… just what we wanted.

We hired the mason who did the stonework in the house to come and lay the brick. We used a 90° herringbone pattern edged by bricks in a soldiered pattern. It was not easy.

You can see the 750 bricks purchased to cover the porch. My job, as apprentice, was to learn how to mix mortar (my first batch I added too much water) and strike the brick (that is, finish the mortar joints between bricks).

photo (1)

Here the progress we made the first day…


Striking brick is not that easy and it takes practice using the tool (called a “slick”) to add and smooth mortar without making a mess of everything. About Day 3 I almost got good at it!.

Here’s the progress we made by Day 2.

photo (4)


On Day 3 we didn’t finish laying the last brick (we kept looking for it!) until 9:30pm and cleaned everything up by about 10pm.

photo (5) photo (6) photo (7)

The final product, however, looks spectacular! Thanks to our mason Dave Walker.


So this project that I expected to take 1 day (maybe 1.5?) actually took 3 long days to complete. But it’s done and looks beautiful! We need to let it cure a bit before we wash and clean it with a mild acid.

April 13, 2014

A Digression… Finish Carpentry

Filed under: Dining Room,Living room,Stone house restoration,Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 8:42 pm

One of the things that has slowed my progress on this house has been moving from modern power tools to the hand tools that were likely used on our home. Because of this “disease” of mine I decided to do the finish carpentry in the downstairs rooms with hand tools. This post shows what I did and maybe (partially?) explains why it took so long!  😉

This window used to be a door… from the old kitchen to the basement. Soon it will be a window again. However, the finish carpentry first required that a stool be constructed that was about 18″ deep and 42″ wide.  Then side casing was added, then head casing across the top, and finally an apron underneath completed the woodwork.



To make the stool I started with a piece of white pine about 22″ wide and 45″ long. I planed the board using hand planes. First a #5 Stanley to remove the coarsest imperfections and I finished with a #8 Stanley to smooth the surface. The underside was left unfinished.



Then a rabbet was needed to fit into the window frame so that notches in the stiles of the frame allowed the stool to nicely meet the lower sash.  To make the rabbet I used a rebate plane that I bought on eBay and restored.


I then cut the stool (using crosscut and rip saws) to fit the window so that the distance from the sash to the “wings” on each side (that will be underneath each side casing) was correct.



This is how the stool fit at this point.



Once the stool was fit to the sash then I could finish the “wings” to length and depth (with respect to the side casing).


Fitting the side casing at this point was relatively simple. The side casing is nailed to wooden blocks installed in the stonework as well as nails that come up from underneath the stool.



The next step was to install the head casing. To hide any imperfections (and later movement of the wood, or house), the carpenters for our home cut a rabbet in the head casing to join the side and head casings. See photo below. I used a different approach to hide imperfections in matching side and head casings in the new part of the house (see this post).



So here’s the window with stool, side casing, and head casing installed.



The final carpentry required is to install the apron, which is nailed to the two blocks that support the stool.



Now “all” that’s left is for the plasterers to finish the wall! (and that would be me)

August 13, 2010

What has happened in the last month?

Filed under: Interior,trim,Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 8:47 pm

Well, a lot has happened but not enough has happened on the house to motivate me to take pictures. However, I have put hours and hours into the upstairs.

I can’t believe it has been a month and 2 days since I last posted anything. Just so you know, this is what I have been doing in the past month (besides going to work!).

I drove to North Carolina to see Ethan race in the Junior Olympics. He placed second in the slalom and second in the downriver race. So he won silver medals in both events and earned a spot on the USA Cadet Team. Here’s a photo of him in the slalom race (as always, click on a photo for a full-screen view).

The next week we went to Vermont to visit family and celebrate my birthday. My parents gave me and Molly (for her upcoming birthday) an overnight stay at Seyon Lodge (along with the rest of the family freeloaders) where you can only flyfish for brook trout. We didn’t catch anything but enjoyed the solitude, great accommodations, and wonderful local and fresh food. Note the pink fishing vest and guide.

While visiting in Vermont we also took a trip to Franconia Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire to hike the Flume.

and almost get stuck in the rocks!

Ethan Ethan watching Dad 

Lisa  and Grammy and Pop-Pop 

And our new golden retriever, Hazen, continues to harass Windsor. I never thought an English setter could be so patient with a puppy.

So that pretty much eliminated July for doing any work on the house. Since our return I have been spending a lot of time working on the 2nd floor. For what seems like very little progress it takes many hours because all the trim needs to be planed to thickness, cut to dimension, primed, and painted. I also have to strip paint off the old doors, sand, and prime and paint them. Plus build each door frame and hang the door.

But Molly’s room is done… except I have to make the shelves and clothes rack in the closet, plus the closet doors. Also, I need to make a bookcase and window seat. Ethan’s room is done except the closet… The walk-in closet is done except for all the shelving and clothes racks… The linen closet is done except for the shelves and door… The bathroom is done except for the door frame, trim, trim painting, toilet installation, sink installation, and shelving. So you should realize the second floor isn’t really done…

I think it’s easier to just show you photos of what has been accomplished. Below are the doors to Molly’s (left) and Ethan’s (right) room. And a close-up of the rimlock hardware I restored for each door (please note that I did not pick out the chartreuse color for the trim – that’s Molly’s choice!).

Here is a photo of the door to the walk-in closet and the Blake patent cast iron latch I restored. All of the doors (including hardware) cost me $10 each and came from a house built in Beech Creek, PA about the same time as ours .

Here’s a door I had to make for the access to the ductwork chase.

Here’s a photo of Ethan’s room. We asked him what color trim and he said some kind of red… this is what we picked out for him. Should work well at Christmas time!

I have been putting off work on the bathroom because until the toilet was in place I wouldn’t know if the door could open inwards!  Because of the downstairs layout, the toilet had to go closer to the door rather than away from the door next to the far wall (the preferred location). As it turns out, with a 29-7/8″ door there is enough room for the door to open inwards and the seat might even be able to be in the down position!  All this meant that I had to re-frame the door smaller and fill in the space with sheetrock. After a day-and-a-half of work I am about ready to install the rest of the trim and finish the door!

Here are photos of the bathroom doorway with it re-framed, drywall (2 coats and primed), and the door framing installed. Photo left is looking into the bathroom and photo right is looking from the bathroom into the hallway.

This weekend I hope to get the toilet and vanity installed, install the bath/shower fixtures, and start building shelving that goes at one end of the tub unit (more on that to come). We’re looking to have a functional bathroom and liveable bedrooms next week!

July 6, 2010

New Puppy!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 7:18 am

It has taken a week but Windsor will finally let Hazen share a bed and get closer than 12″ to her!

April 6, 2010

We’ve Gone Underground

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 8:18 pm

Today was the day that Allegheny Power scheduled the switch from overhead to underground utilities. I woke up and it was raining.  Fortunately, by 8am the showers stopped and the skies cleared. The electricians were here at 7:3oam and shut off the power when Lisa went to work and began preparing for the changeover.  They were ready by 9:30am when Allegheny showed up – so much so that if the lineman could have waited 15 minutes it would have been turned back on in a half hour… but the lineman had to go elsewhere in the meantime.  Anyway, by noon we had a new panel in the barn and power in the house and even the addition (2 outlets to plug in power tools).

I spent the day working on venting the bathroom fans. It only took 3 trips to the hardware store.

The bad part of that is because we spent so much money there we get a $10 coupon for every $200 we spend – that means $10,000 in windows left me with 30-something coupons.  Now when I buy something the salesman mentions that if I spend a dollar more I can use another coupon. Try spending just $1 in a hardware store!

Anyway, I finished the vents about 7pm after dealing with electrician, mason, geothermal, and builder issues. Here’s a picture of the electricians removing the overhead wires

When Lisa came home she asked who wasn’t here. In the afternoon the geothermal drilling crew returned to try to get an extra 100′ of piping in the ground to service the heat exchanger in the addition. So once again our yard looks like a wildcat drilling operation.

Contractors will be wrapping up tasks pretty quickly now. We’ll try to keep up with them.

March 24, 2010

Posts, Beams, and Other Oddities

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 8:46 pm

I have handled a lot of posts and beams recently. I guess I can remember what happened as far back as late last week. I picked up the antique chestnut beams from the kiln where they were heated to 160° for 24 hr to kill any bugs. With the help of my neighbor Bill we unloaded them all except for the one to be sawed in half (lengthwise) for each end of the master bedroom. Then Bill and I moved a load of slippery (red) elm out of the solar kiln (and into my workshop) and moved in a load of hemlock and hickory to dry. The hemlock and hickory were cut last fall and were stickered in the pole barn – and their moisture content was fairly low – but after one day in the solar kiln the moisture started wicking out and the kiln was filled with moisture and the meter was off the scale (>30% moisture). Today (Wed) I checked the wood and it had a 15-25% moisture content.

On Sunday Bill and I worked on installing posts for our new cattle corral. Last year the steers we brought home went through our fence like a knife through butter. This year we’re adding 3 more strands of high tensile electric fence and posts about every 10 feet. We installed almost 20 posts (some we had to do twice because they were not lined up very well).

I took us most of the day. I’ll have more photos of the fencing project soon. We need the utilities moved from the homestead pole to the underground access so that I can use the homestead pole for supports for a gate into the cattle corral. Plus Bill and I need to assess what other materials we need to finish the project (insulators, wires, tensioners, etc.).

Bill also helped me plane the posts and beams for the front porch. I have 6×6 posts and 6×10 beams of hemlock for both porches and they needed to be planed to final dimensions. Then I needed to cut the mortises, tenons, and scarf joints to make the supports for the porches. I am starting with the larger porch near the barn because this framing is needed so Lee’s crew can build the roof and complete the framing and roofing on that side of the house.

But before I could get much work done on the timber joinery Lisa pointed out that our mason was chipping away at the mortar around the first floor window that will become the passageway from the old to new house on the first floor.  Bill and I put down our beers. So that the mason can take out the window and stones we had to do some destruction in the living room.

Here’s a photo of a discussion with Bill about what needed to happen.

And here’s a photo of  a discussion with the mason about what needed to be done

And here’s what we did

The downstairs of the old house was studded out in 1989 and insulated. Mostly what this did was make the room smaller and encourage mold and plaster deterioration behind the walls. Destruction is always fun and in and old house it usually leads you to learn something about the history of the building. What we learned is that the wainscot we knew existed in this room in the 1950s and 60s was not original to the home. The wainscot was removed when the insulation was added in 1989 and beneath the wainscot was older wallpaper and any hidden trim and baseboard had the original milk paint (some shade of deep blue/gray milk paint). When I removed the trim from around the window I found that underneath the sill was a space filled with mouse nests and corn cobs. I think the corn cobs were used to try and plug some knotholes in the sill. I also found 3 combs but no money.  Haven’t found anything more than a 1950 penny in this house so far.

About 9pm that evening Lisa and I finished up vacuuming up the debris and installed some plastic to keep the masonry dust out of our living space. Here’s what the opening looks like as of Wednesday evening (looking from the addition into the old part of the house):

Tuesday morning I was going to at least go into work for part of the day, but it was clear that I needed to get the posts and beams cut so that Lee’s crew could start building the front porch. I started at about 6am on Tuesday (and with various interruptions during the day) wound up getting all but the last joint at the corner post (post and 2 beams) completed by 11pm that evening. I got up at 5:30am on Wednesday and finished the last of the joinery.

This is one of the joints I attempted to make for linking the beams across the posts (a bridled scarf joint):

Here’s a photo of the posts and beams. The one one unfinished end in the photo is because I left all the posts long so that they could be cut to length when installed. By tomorrow or Friday we’ll find out how well (or badly) they fit the porch space. If not, at least I have learned enough that the posts and beams for the rear porch will fit better and go together faster.

Finally, as a wrap-up for this post (no pun intended) is a photo of the antique chestnut beams that Lee’s crew installed in the master bedroom.

March 18, 2010

Busy Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 7:30 pm

Sorry for little info on the progress of the house but work has been really busy and between work at work and work at home I have had little time to blog. Here’s an update.

The geothermal drilling was put on hold until the company got all their equipment repaired. In the meantime, this meant we could get the electrical and plumbing completed.

Last Friday (12 March) I drove to Brattleboro, VT to purchase four 24′ chestnut beams for our master bedroom. I left Bellefonte at 5:45am and arrived in Brattleboro at noon where I met my parents for lunch. After lunch we got a call from the guy selling the beams that he couldn’t get away from work. Anyway, we got directions to the where the beams were stored, cut them to 16′ and loaded them on the canoe rack of my truck. I met the guys girlfriend in town and paid the balance due and was on my way back to PA. The rack barely supported the weight and I wasn’t sure if I’d make it back!

But I did and on Saturday delivered them to Braucht’s Dry Kiln to have them heated to 160°F for 24 hrs to kill any insects. I haven’t had time to pick them up.

This week Dave Walker, the stone mason, completely opened the passageway from the old to new house through the stone wall.  After he poured a threshold between the two, Windsor (all on her own) stepped in the fresh concrete and left her footprint. I think we have a dog print in almost every bit of concrete we’ve poured on the farm. Dave is slowly re-pointing all the stone and laying stone to frame in the new doorway between the basements. We’ll have pictures soon.

On Tuesday I took the day off work to prepare for pouring concrete slabs for both porches. Basically, all I accomplished was drilling 5 footers using a 3-pt posthole digger. Four of the 5 holes were easy. The one problem one was right where our former “septic field” was located. This drain field was simply a hole full of crushed limestone the size of baseballs. So when I drilled the holes  and pulled up the auger the hole sides collapsed. By the time I was done I had a 3′ deep hole that was 3′ wide. The one good thing was that when drilling one of the holes for the back porch I didn’t hit the water line to the barn that I knew was nearby!

On Wednesday the excavator arrived to dig trenches for the electrical and uncover the access for the septic tank. Also, the building inspector arrived to check out the electrical wiring in the house, the plumbing, and the framing (plus the footers I dug for the porches). Everything passed except that we didn’t have a permit to set a new homestead pole and meter. Something else to do on Thursday.

Today (Thursday), with the help of our neighbor Tom, I built forms for the porch floors, leveled the stone, and tied in rebar. Fortunately, I dug the footers on Tuesday because it took a good 4 hours to get things ready for the concrete truck. I estimated I needed 4.5-5.0 yards of concrete. Turned out to be 5.6 yards. But by 3pm everything was pretty much done except waiting for the concrete to cure.

Here are photos of progress on siding and painting (you can’t really tell what has been painted because the primer and paint are almost identical), plus the trenching and concrete work.

Here is a photo of the electrical conduit from the house to the barn.

Here’s a photo where you can see that the siding on the front of the house is almost complete and the porch concrete pad has been poured.

Below is a photo of the concrete pad for the rear porch. The sheathing on the right is where the sliding door will be installed.

And here’s the pad for the front porch

So before Monday I need to go get the beams (and get one sawn in half for each end of the bedroom) from the kiln, run the sump pump drain from the basement to our cistern, and plane and cut the posts and beams for the porch. Lots to do. Hope I have time to update the blog.

March 10, 2010

Busy Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 9:03 pm

Today started with Lisa and I driving up to the solar kiln to unload the first batch of wood. The cherry Ethan and I loaded last week was down to ~6-8% moisture content after 5 full days of sun.  We uneventfully moved the wood to the workshop. Then we went up on the roof to try and pick out colors for the new house.

We have tentatively chosen colors that closely match the colors of the primed trim (parsnip) and siding (bayberry wax)…  We admit it makes us feel like we lack any ability to make intelligent color choices but the green and grey of the primer brings out the green/gray colors in the stone.  We hope it works and to hedge our bets we are going to paint one section of the house and see how it looks before we commit to doing everything in our color choices.

Then the mason arrived to start making holes in the side of our stone house so we can get from the old house to the new house. His first recommendation was to re-point the stone basement (see our very first blog to view what the exposed foundation looked like ( My reaction was somewhat skeptical but after he starting removing stones I think we’re lucky the house didn’t fall down when we excavated the foundation.

Here’s a picture of the basement to basement passageway that Dave started to clear

Once some stones were removed it was clear that the foundation needs re-pointing to keep it together. The mortar today is mostly mud (or missing).

Here’s a view from the new side of the basement.

March 8, 2010

Eight Days of the Kiln

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 7:53 pm

Ethan and I loaded the kiln with cherry (for our future kitchen) on the 27th of February. While I was away there wasn’t much sun and the kiln barely made it up to 90 degrees until Friday. Then the sun came out and the past 5 days the kiln has reached 110-120 degrees every day.

A graph of temperature, relative humidity, and dew points tells the whole story. With little sun, relative humidity slowly declined but once the sun came out you can see a large decline. I measured wood moisture on Saturday and it was in the 12-14% range. On Sunday it was in the 10-11% range. Today it was 6-9%.

On Saturday I opened up the vents and that resulted in a rapid decline in moisture content and relative humidity. This evening I shut down the vents a little and will let it dry for another day (it’s supposed to be sunny again). If the moisture content readings of the wood stay in the 6-8% range I’m going to move the wood down to the shop and load up some of the pine I have been air drying.

Click the following link for a graph of the kiln conditions: Cherry

Update on the house

The well casing will be $12.25 per foot. Calculate that cost if we need 50 ft/well for 6 wells. Ka-ching. Today they didn’t even get another well drilled and the mud is over 6″ deep and spreading across the yard towards Lisa’s garden. The electricians are almost ready for inspection and the plumber is returning tomorrow. By next week we can have the framing, plumbing, and electrical inspected.

Now we wait for the well drilling to be completed because that has to be finished before the utility trench can be dug.

In the meantime… siding of the house continues and footers for the porches need to be dug and poured. This evening Ethan and I ripped off the small roof over the back door so that there was more room to side the house.  And Lisa and I need to choose a paint color for the house…

Powered by WordPress